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The Scoop: He’s Back

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Dominique Filoni, that is (and so is Stephen Starr). Fresh from D.C., Filoni is just a stone’s throw away from his alma mater, Lacroix, where he did a brief stint prior to Matthew Levin’s occupation.

In case local culinary history eludes you, Filoni’s resume includes Savona (né Tierra) in Gulph Mills and Bianca (né Toscana, a sib of Savona) in Bryn Mawr. Filoni has several professional accolades to boast, as well, including a Food & Wine award for best new chef in 2004.

The new gig comes with a set of keys to the kitchen at Parc, the new Stephen Starr-backed French bistro coming to Parc Rittenhouse, the condo building across the square at 18th and Locust streets. With the exec-chef line-up along the square, there’s no shortage of good eats near Rittenhouse these days. Now, if only we could recreate a similar enclave on the Line …

Blackboard Specials
Culinary to-dos and deals for insatiable epicureans …

… Starting this week and running every Thursday through August, 333 Belrose chef Carlo deMarco will be firing up small-plate fare, such as mini-burgers and shrimp and chicken kabobs, as part of his five-buck barbecue menu. (Heck, I can’t even get a martini for five bucks.)

… Think you’ve got a secret weapon in your recipe repertoire? Then send it along to Morton’s at http://www.mortons.com/recipecontest/ by June 2 to be entered in its national recipe contest. The winner will walk away with tickets to Chicago, dinner at Morton’s and a page in its new cookbook, coming in 2009. No cost involved.

Perfect 10
Main Line movers and shakers (and Philadelphia Soul co-owners AND Ritz-Carlton owners) Craig and B.J. Spencer, scored a safety, a touchdown and an extra point at Monday’s invite-only event debuting the hotel’s new restaurant, 10 Arts, and its culinary tour de forces, celeb chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin fame and Philly-born-and-bred chef de cuisine Jennifer Carroll.

For starters, I was wholly impressed by the fact that 10 Arts opened very close to its ETA, and more so that the entire staff was pleasantly upbeat, unhurried and unpretentious throughout the entire evening. (I realize that this shouldn’t be a shock, but the stress of opening night can bring out the worst in a restaurant staff, and service doesn’t always meet expectations.)

Having attended the hardhat party earlier this spring, I was thrilled to see the design come to life. Let me just say that artist renderings and framed “swatch” collages don’t hold a candle to the real thing. When the PR peops first explained that the lounge was going to be in the rotunda, I didn’t really get that it was going to be so in-your-face. What a great marketing tool: as soon as you walk in, an eclectic array of plush seating and a well-stocked wine tower beckon, as does the sleek bar behind it.

The only sort-of-weird design elements were the LCD panels behind the bar—more like 3-D boxes, etched, with pink light emanating out of them, and two luminous glass-block arches, also radiating pink.

I’d have to see the room without so many people to really pass a thoughtful judgment on the décor, but my initial reaction is a two-handed thumbs-up. The color scheme of mocha, hot pink, magenta and charcoal (in the carpeting) was not jarring as you might expect. Personally, I dug the juxtaposed feel of opulence and cozy comfort. (The Stargate accents, however, are still disconcerting.)

Lighting was cool, too. The back room—which, in my humble opinion, has the best seat in the house, with a pretty, wooden two top table and high-back, upholstered chairs tucked up next to the sole fireplace—has a futuristic glass bubble chandelier similar to that at Azie in Media. In the main dining room, there are five chandeliers with formidable strands of shimmering glass beads hanging down. And there’s a large window, framed like a piece of art that peers in the bakery portion of the kitchen.

The rotunda area serves as the lounge, with the exception of a row of curvaceous banquettes along the left perimeter that delineates the start of restaurant seating. My guess is that great attention was paid to decibel levels, and a unanimous decision to load up on heavy fabrics.

My favorite party touch was the decadent display of Veuve Clicquot champagne, a myriad of bottles displayed atop two ice sculptures cut out to create “shelves.” One of the bartenders wasn’t too far off when he said, “This is what heaven looks like.”

I also thought the bar itself was pretty neat. Polished and sleek (with a bar top that looks like Carrera marble, but could be granite), it nestles into the far columns of the rotunda and has plenty of seating. I expect there’s going to be a lot of night capping going on here …

But enough of my rough décor ramblings … the food truly stood out. I am not easy to please, worse so when I know there’s a big name attached to the kitchen. I have got to tell you; the food was excellent on all accounts—looks, taste, texture, preparation, freshness—and there was so much of it that the servers were still pushing passed hors d’oeuvres at 9 p.m.

I’m still licking my lips after sampling a tad-bit-bigger-than-sashimi-sized portion of brook trout with baby bok choy and a lush hazelnut brown butter sauce, and the silky, deeply flavored corn chowder prepared with dried and fresh corn, celery, onions and chicken stock with nary a hint of cream. Served in onyx-colored demitasse cups, the soup delivered intoxicating sips and bits of the caramelized veggies.

The calamari, besides being unbelievably cute, cut into little morsels, was crispy, tender and sweet, and the remoulade had just the right tang to complement, rather than overpower, the tiny bites.

Other highlights include a moist, sweet and simply dressed crab salad (part of the raw bar); octopus “coins,” smoky and supple; and a striped bass burger (slider sized), sandwiched between two petite halves of buttery brioche, topped with a roasted tomato and shaved fennel, and napped with saffron aioli.

At the end of the night, I finally got my hands on the petite parchment cones of French fries, and am happy to report, they were crispy and well seasoned with something close to, but subtler than, Old Bay (this was the subject of debate at one point in the evening). I also was able to try the wild salmon with Savoy cabbage and red wine béarnaise, cooked to a wobbling, slightly translucent medium-rare (if my fish is stiff; it’s overcooked) and generous on buttery flavor.

The only dessert that I tasted (after playing something close to “Duck, Duck, Goose” in my head) was this tasty, little round of chocolate cake with a crunchy, sweet banana toffee-ish center that was quite unexpected.

Not remembering my camera was a bummer, although I am pretty sure I wasn’t going to get away with taking a whole lot of pix. However, we are supposed to get a batch as soon as our PR contact gets her hands on them.

I highly recommend stopping in for at least a drink the next time you’re in the vicinity for a taste of the swank ambiance and, very likely, some good people-watching.

Here’s a look at the [completely unadulterated] cocktail menu. I didn’t hit all the stations or dive in to every tray of butlered hors d’oeuvres, but from what I did see and sample, most of these items were taste-tested at the preview party. As were all the cocktails, which were displayed along the bar top so guests could window-shop before making a decision.

Cocktail Menu
» Oysters variety of oyster by the piece
» Wellfleet Clams by the piece
» Grilled Shrimp quinoa and herb salad
» Salmon Rillette fresh and smoked salmon spread
» Olives mixed Mediterranean
» Warm Soft Pretzels creamy cheese sauce, jalapeno jam, Dijon mustard
» Fried Calamari remoulade sauce
» Wild Boar Proscuitto aged reserve, grilled sourdough
» Pate en Croute mini pork pies
» Mini Fish Burgers saffron aioli
» Mini Burgers
» Popcorn truffle, Parmesan
» French Fries herbe de Provence, Espelette and sea salt

Perfect 10
(Cocktails—all named for famous Philadelphians)
» WC Fields’ Pomagingertini: Grey Goose Citron, Pomegranate puree and a splash of Cointreau shaken with a fresh slice of ginger
» The Philadelphia Story: A true bellini made with peach nectar and Champagne
» Wyeth’s Blue Ice: Chilean red table grapes muddled with fresh lime, Ciroc Vodka and Elderflower syrup served on ice
» Cassatt’s Toreador: Tangerine infused Tequila, fresh lime, Agave syrup and sage
» Eakins’ Elixir: Stolichnaya Ohranj Vodka, Blood orange puree and a splash of Grand Marnier shaken and served with a white sugar rim
» McIlhenny’s Return: Spicy-hot Bloody Mary…lots of Horseradish
» Gamble & Huff’s Cucumber Classic: Muddled Japanese Cucumber, fresh lime and Hendricks Gin, sea salt, served over ice
» Barrymore’s Champagne Soliloquy: Champagne, Grand Marnier Navan and Pineapple juice
» Anderson’s Melon-Mint Aria: Kettle One vodka and Fresh Watermelon with a hint of mint
» Calder’s Le Fleur: Champagne, edible candied Hibiscus flower and essence of Hibiscus